By Nick Shepkowski-
(CBS) It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Bears had extended the contract of their franchise quarterback, added seemingly capable bodies on the weak defensive line and undoubtedly closed the talent gap between themselves and the Green Bay Packers. Heck, the team was coming off of an 8-8 season that saw their franchise quarterback sidelined for parts of six contests.
But in case you’ve been living under a rock, 2014 hasn’t exactly gone according to plan in Chicago.
The Bears are 3-5 and unless Aaron Rodgers again breaks his collarbone, they figure to be be 3-6 by 10:30 p.m. or so Sunday. After that, two dates with the first-place Lions are still to come, as are contests against the Cowboys and Saints. The safe bet would be that it gets worse before it gets any better. With a horrendous record — say 6-10 — plenty will call for coach Marc Trestman to lose his job. Heck, plenty already have.
But how much can we take away from a coach’s first two seasons with a head NFL job?
That’s if winning a Super Bowl is your goal, like Bears management claims it to be. Even if it means just getting to the big game, the Bears are in awful shape.
The last 14 Super Bowls have featured 21 different head coaches. Of those, Bill Belichick has gone five times, while Mike Tomlin, John Fox and Tom Coughlin have all gone twice. What do all 21 of these coaches have in common?
All 21 led their teams to the playoffs at least once in their first two years.
Some inherited great situations, like Jon Gruden with Tampa Bay and Bill Callahan in Oakland, when both first-year coaches reached Super Bowl XXXVII. Jim Caldwell also took the Colts to Super Bowl XLIV his first season in charge.
Others had strong opening campaigns despite not quite getting to the big game.
John Harbaugh in Baltimore and Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco both reached the conference championship game in their first seasons, as did Sean Payton his first year in New Orleans. Pete Carroll’s 7-9 record was nothing remarkable in his first year, but a win in Week 17 — something Marc Trestman couldn’t lock down in 2013 — sent his Seahawks to the postseason, where they went on to even win a game.
Eventual Super Bowl champion coaches Mike Tomlin, Tony Dungy and Bill Cowher also guided their teams to the playoffs in the first year, despite not advancing in the playoffs. Jim Fassel also had a quick initial turnaround with the Giants, going 10-5-1 before a first-round exit his first year.
John Fox guided the 2011 Broncos, a team quarterbacked by Tim Tebow, to a playoff victory in in the wild-card round in his first year in Denver, after it took him just two years to get to the postseason (and within seconds of reaching overtime in Super Bowl XXXVIII) with Carolina.
Others’ success didn’t come quite as fast, but by the second year the turnaround was obvious.
Bill Belichick, that guy who gets as much credit for the Patriots dynasty as Tom Brady, was just 5-11 his first season in New England. He followed it up with a Super Bowl champion the following season.
Bears fans likely recall the tough times of Lovie Smith’s first fall in Chicago, a 5-11 campaign in 2004. Smith had the Bears hosting a divisional playoff game (which they lost) in the next year. Andy Reid also lost in the divisional round his second year in Philadelphia after a 5-11 opening campaign. In Arizona, Ken Whisenhunt started slow at 8-8 in his first year, then followed it with a Super Bowl appearance.
Tom Coughlin, who had previously guided the Jaguars to the AFC Championship game in their second year of existence, also guided the Giants to the postseason in his second year in charge. Mike Holmgren twice went 9-7 his first year as a head coach and twice missed the playoffs, once in Green Bay and once in Seattle. He wound up making the playoffs at both stops in year two and eventually led both to Super Bowl appearances (winning one in Green Bay).
Mike Martz won 10 games in his first year with the Rams but failed to make the playoffs, something he did his second year in St. Louis, guiding it to a Super Bowl XXXVI appearance. Brian Billick guided one of the league’s greatest all-time defenses in the 2000 Ravens to a Super Bowl in his second year at the helm.
And finally, because it’s Bears-Packers week, why not look at what happened the last time Green Bay hired a head coach?
In 2006, Mike McCarthy’s Packers went the same 8-8 that Trestman went in his first year in charge and watched the playoffs from his couch.
A year later, he didn’t start the year at 3-5, however. McCarthy and the 2007 Packers instead went 13-3 and hosted the NFC Championship game.
Is it possible for Trestman to still be successful as a Bears coach? Sure.
Dick Vermeil won Super Bowl XXXIV in his third year with the Rams despite going just 9-23 in his first two seasons combined.
But that was 15 years ago — technically last century. It’s a different game now.
Based on what has happened since and on the near-nothing that Trestman’s done with a talent-loaded roster this year, history gives me no choice but to think it won’t be this coach who turns around this Bears team.